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Gautam Gulati

National Marketing Head | 03 Mar 2004

“Radio commercials are the result of a lot of thought and effort. That’s why creative work on radio deserves recognition.”

In a conversation with Anushree Madan Mohan from exchange4media, Gautam Gulati, National Marketing Head, Radio Mirchi, discusses Mirchi’s approach to the Kaan Awards, the roadmap to a successful brand building and the role of marketing vis-à-vis content.

Q. Let’s start off with a brief background about you. How did you get associated with Radio Mirchi?

Prior to my joining Radio Mirchi, I was with Ranbaxy Global Consumer Health Care. The OTC division at Ranbaxy was just set up and I was handed over the reins of that area. I had to handle the complete planning for the brand, Revital – starting from research and consumer insight, to the brand positioning statement and administration of the creative. That was my entire stint with Ranbaxy. Prior to Ranbaxy, I worked with SmithKline Beecham.

When I joined Radio Mirchi, I was attuned to things on the other side of the fence, as I was exposed to FMCG industry for such a long time. After my joining the station on 12th of March 2003, three new stations were launched in Delhi, Calcutta and Chennai. The initial months were very hectic as I didn’t have much of understanding about the medium. The point is that radio is a very different industry though the basic marketing fundamentals are much the same as any other industry. Understanding the dynamics does take time and, I feel that I’m still learning new things, every single day. Back at Beecham, we had perhaps sat in September and finished our brand plans for the subsequent year by chalking out the key brand drivers. Media schedules for the entire year were made in accordance with Mindshare – the agency for Beecham at that point. We ensured that everything went on schedule.

Things are much different here because radio is a livewire medium and nearly every day there is a development of some kind. It’s a competitive and dynamic industry; for instance, sometimes there is a strategy that’s adopted by a rival station, which you might have wanted to adopt sometime later. Or, there are times, when there is something drastically wrong with your station and you need to put things back on track.

Q. Is it a challenging job to be heading the marketing activities of a prominent radio station?

Selling radio is a challenge, because its an ever changing medium. And brand managers still carry their own perceptions about radio. You need to work on that.

Q. How is Mirchi positioned as a brand? How is it different from the other radio brands?

This question calls for a flashback of sorts. At the inception of the station, there was a great deal of debate and discussion on the name that we ought to incorporate, which would essentially convey our identity. It was Mr. Vineet Jain(Chairman, Times Group) who devised the name ‘Mirchi’ and in retrospect, that was the best name that we could have incorporated because all of the other players (at least in Mumbai) had names in English. Mirchi denotes a colloquial feel and there is a far greater connect amongst listeners. The baseline, ‘It’s Hot’ was at the initial stage. With time, there were two schools of thought with their own perceptions about Mirchi. One interpreted the station as an ‘Exciting’ and ‘Youthful’ medium with great music while the other negatively interpreted Mirchi as a station that stands for something sexually suggestive. We sat down with our agency McCann Erickson to counter the second interpretation. In October, last year, we discussed on how we could deliver the promise that we stood for, with tangible benefits in the readership graph. There was unanimous agreement over the fact that listeners ideally like to keep themselves informed about the lives of celebrities, which was a take-off from the success of Bombay Times.

And, we moved on to the Bollywood positioning. We give you Bollywood, like no one else does! While our theme would be around Mirchi, we would say it the Bollywood way. Look at our ‘Celebrate Bandra’ initiative – where we spoke to celebrities around Bandra and beyond, and aired their views on the festival.

‘Aapka Apna Bollywood station’– that’s our positioning till now. And, we’ve plans to stick to it, at least, for some time.

Q. From the inception till the present day, how has your approach towards outdoor and ground activity differed?

The fact is you need to be seen outside your radio station. That’s what we could achieve only through outdoor and ground initiatives. The Bipasha, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan take-offs were very topical, and weren’t incorporated only with a deliberate skew towards Bollywood. The underlying mandate in all our creatives is that it needs to be different. That’s the pre-requisite that’s there in the agency’s head before they take on any of our work. Be it the launch campaign or the Bollywood campaign in October featuring Salman, Priety and Akshay – it was all about a certain kind of funkiness. If there were anything that we took on, it would have to be accompanied by a one-liner that would grab you. It would make you stop on your tracks and pay heed to Mirchi. Ground activity has always been on our agenda, since in radio, a lot can happen through word of mouth. Over the period of one and half years, we have a mix of brand-related advertising and consumer promos that have been quite successful. Take for example ‘Kismat Khol De’, which works this way, if you have the number 983 anywhere in your ration card or passbook, you are liable to win prizes. Or, an initiative like, ‘Khel Lakhon Ka’, which again works on the concept of winning big! We had an RJ Hunt, which was in some ways a category building effort. Our marketing efforts had two distinct phases: One was the pre-October period, when we single-mindedly focused on brand building. In the post-October period, it was all about spacing out the Bollywood platform.

To answer your question, whether it’s outdoor or ground level or on-air activity, the idea was always to take on something different. This underlying fact has remained constant regardless of the time period. We have the ‘Mirchi Khel Bollywood Ka’ initiative going on in the present day which works on an elaborate catch line. The line goes – ‘Listening to Mirchi Pays’ and it is a line that wouldn’t be missed by many. Again, the press ads for this initiative are extremely funky. Our prizes are highly enticing; the offerings include two flats in Delhi, a trip to Malaysia, jewellery, jeans and other nick-nacks.

Q. Do you agree with the view that most FM stations in Mumbai sound similar?

If you had asked me the same question some months back, I would have said ‘Yes.’ And, research too would have said the same. But things are changing quite rapidly. In the current day, each player is making an attempt to carve out a distinct niche for itself. We have one that offers more of talk rather soaps, another that projects itself as ‘College Radio’, a third that caters more to the English music lovers…there’s specifically defined imagery and positioning at work, on the part of each station. While in the past, the common man or the housewife wouldn’t have been able to identify the radio station that he/she has been listening to. But, things are changing quite a bit in the present day.

From the content and marketing perspective, it’s essential for any station to not get swayed by individual preferences but by the preferences of the masses. And, in a city like Mumbai, we are talking about an audience of 16 million or more. What kind of content do they need? That’s what stations need to address.

Q. How would you define creatives on radio in the current day? How would you validate the deliberate skew towards humour?

I have seen some great work on radio, and to a certain extent, a lot does revolve around humour. Again, I don’t necessarily regard this as a negative sign. On one hand, there are the stereotypical Gabbbar ads and the standard mimicry sessions and on the other hand, there is genuine work that stands out, an instance would be of the Amaron or the Close up radio commercial. But isn’t that typical of television channels as well? You see so many ads on television and only a handful can really be called outstanding work. What’s important here is that, in terms of creatives on radio, brands are moving out of the phase of applying television cut-offs on radio. Radio commercials, are the result of a lot of thought and effort, in the present day. That’s creative work on radio deserves recognition. On account of the great response that we have achieved for the Mirchi Kaan Awards, I can stand by the fact that there is a great deal of talent within radio advertising. Some of the work that we have received is truly exceptional, designed by talented minds in well-known agencies like, O&M, Euro, Ambience or McCann.

Lets not forget that radio is a tough medium.

Q. Is the Mirchi Kaan Awards another step in brand building?

It’s more of a category building initiative. There is a need to award exceptional creative in radio, which is an uncommon medium. Since radio is not accompanied by visuals, it’s only the sound and the idea that would grab the attention of the listener. An initiative like Mirchi Kaan Awards recognises only exceptional creative work and ensures that more of the same is generated for the medium. Which is why, we have seen a tremendous response from creative people, in ad agencies, even in the light of the fact that as an initiative, this is the first from any radio station. We have a number of esteemed and well-known faces from the advertising fraternity as a part of our panel, which includes names like, Balki, Prasoon Joshi, Ravi Deshpande and Elsie Nanji .The interesting fact is we didn’t have to ask them more than once, about their decision to be a part of this initiative. Nearly all of them were more than enthusiastic about the Mirchi Kaan Awards and were convinced about the merits it had to offer.

Q. Are there any entries from RMG David’s side (the agency that handles the account of Radio City)?

I don’t think so. And Lowe isn’t a part of it either. Lowe has not been participating in any of the awards functions since the last three years.

Q. Were the other operators consulted before you decided to take on such an initiative?

Unfortunately, the scene in the radio world – both financially and otherwise, is such that nearly all of the players are busy with the affairs of their own station. The way it works is, if you are busy cleaning up and setting things right in your own house, then your immediate neighbourhood would come second on your list of priorities. On the other hand, if you have some support, you can carry on with the cleaning expedition in your house and take on some work for the neighbourhood as well. In all honesty, I don’t think that many others will be willing to take on efforts in category development, simply because they are too busy getting their own affairs in order. Having said this, it must also be said that the reason why Mirchi Kaan Awards is emerging so quickly and on schedule is, we have given it single-minded attention and made it a priority in our scheme of things.

Q. On a totally different tangent, radio stations have been known to take a dig at each other through spoofs and wise cracks. In a category, where the need is for most players to empathise each other, how do you validate these wise cracks?

Yeah… it is immature. There was a time when all the stations were a part of it, which includes Mirchi. But if you have noticed, Mirchi has refrained from taking on any kinds of spoofs and things on another radio station, since a long. Even though, there have been cases when people were busy taking a dig at us, but we have avoided retaliating. See, when you counter something, someone said with a spoof or a one-liner of your own, you are, in fact giving the competing station some amount of brand recall. That’s why, ideally, you ought to be focusing on your job and not waste your resources over inane activities.

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